Can a Herniated Disc in the Neck Cause Arm Pain?

by LSI on July 6, 2012

Herniated Disc in the NeckIf you’ve developed a herniated disc in your neck, you may be experiencing pain, numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness in your arm. Now, you might expect that a herniated disc in your neck would cause neck pain. But, how can two seemingly unrelated areas of your body – the cervical spine (neck) and your arm – have a painful cause and effect relationship? To fully understand the relationship and discover how a cervical herniated disc can cause symptoms to arise in your arm, it’s helpful to briefly review the spinal anatomy.

Spinal Anatomy

Your spinal components, which consist of vertebrae, intervertebral discs, nerves, muscles, ligaments, and tendons, all work together to keep you upright and allow for a wide range of motion. The vertebrae also have the unique job of housing and protecting your spinal cord, which runs from the base of the brain into the lower back before splitting into a bundle of nerves. Along the length of the spinal cord, nerve roots branch off to exit the spinal column and travel to other areas of your body, transmitting sensory and motor signals to and from the brain.

Intervertebral discs are the spongy, shock absorbing pads of cartilage sandwiched between individual stacked vertebrae. Each disc has a tough outer wall, called the annulus fibrosus, and a gel-like inner core, called the nucleus pulposus. If a herniated disc develops in your neck, the disc’s inner core could leak out of the annular wall and compress a cervical nerve root.

Understanding Radiculopathy

Cervical nerve roots innervate your neck, shoulders, upper back, arms, and fingers. When a herniated disc in your neck compresses these nerves, the normal transmission of sensory and motor signals are disrupted. When nerves are interfered with, a phenomenon known as radiculopathy occurs, which is felt as pain, muscle weakness, tingling, and numbness that radiates along an irritated or damaged nerve. What this means is even though there is a herniated disc in your neck, it may be pinching a nerve and causing pain signals to travel down the length of your arm.

See Your Doctor

If you suspect that the symptoms you are experiencing are due to a herniated disc in your neck, make an appointment to visit your doctor. Only a family physician or a spine specialist can properly diagnose you and recommend a treatment plan to help mitigate your symptoms.

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